Thanks to my friend, Jody, I volunteered my services to a hotel in Loja for a week. Initially, I was only there to make a website for the hotel. In the end, I became the hotel’s main dishwasher, a part-time waitress, a sous chef, and a semi-advisor. It was good fun.
El Cardenal Hotel is run by the Mendez family. Basically, Remi is the owner and his family helps out whenever they can. Remi is a 50-something-year-old man who left this job in Quito to start a business of his own in his hometown. The hotel started three years ago with six rooms and an oratory.
In the morning, Remi gets up early depending on the number of guests and who needs to check out since the hotel reception (mainly him) is open 24 hours a day. Remi was definitely not happy about a DJ who came in at 1 am and left at 5 am.
The hotel offers breakfast to all the guests, so from 7:30 am, Remi is prepping food. He’s always got a huge pot of coffee on the stove and a random assortment of food ready to go. This includes pancakes topped with fresh fruit and eggs made to order. He also has a separate breakfast for himself, his brother, and me.
By 9:00 am, Remi is scrambling around trying to check people out of the hotel, answering phones, and cleaning the bedrooms. Remi’s 85-year-old mother, Sra. Cristina, also arrives at this time to help with the cleaning and cooking. This is when I start washing the dishes and attempting to make cappuccino with the hotel’s fancy espresso machine.
With the stereo blasting a smooth jazz playlist from YouTube, Remi is quickly moving up and down the three-story hotel with armfuls of used towels and linens. Remi’s mother is in the kitchen chopping vegetables and cooking whatever is in the refrigerator.
Throughout the morning, random people would come by and ring the doorbell. As Remi and his mother are always running around, they prefer to keep the front door lock. These random people include the police doing their security checks of the area and people inquiring about the hotel for an event.
By 12:00 pm, Remi’s mother announces that lunch is ready. Sometimes, neighbors drop by to have an almuerzo (lunch set) at the hotel. We eat in the kitchen sitting on rickety old chairs using chipped, mismatched dishes while the guests eat in the dining room using coordinating white dinner plates.
The afternoon tends to be quiet. Remi’s mother leaves after lunch. She definitely loves it when I volunteer to wash up after eating because she can leave earlier. Remi sits behind the reception desk doing calculations or making phone calls. As my attempt to be a barista continues, Remi enjoys my multiple cups of cappuccinos that I offer him.
Now that we’re entering December, Remi decides to bring out all the Christmas decorations. Generally, the Ecuadorians will have the Christmas tree up by the first week of November. With multiple saws, screwdrivers, blocks of wood, and a beer crate, he spends the afternoon making a base for the Christmas.
Guests and non-guests come and go, a surprising amount of traffic for such a small hotel. Another neighbor comes by. Remi runs back to the kitchen to warm up the cold pot of coffee. The neighbor brings over his friends. Remi offers them his mother’s queso empanada, which he quickly nukes in the microwave.
When the group leaves, Remi receives a phone call. This is where my non-existent waitressing skills come to play as I clear the table and wash more dishes. After guzzling down several cappuccinos from me and drinking from his big pot of coffee that was breeds in the morning,
By 19:30, Remi is in the kitchen heating up leftovers for dinner. Again, rice and beans are a staple. Sometimes, guests and neighbors would ask for a meal, which Remi either starts preparing or gives up parts of his meal. Afterward, Remi makes a call to guests who haven’t shown up yet confirming their arrival or he makes his bed, which is in the kitchen.
For my last meal at the hotel, Remi and Sra. Cristina prepped a “fancy” meal of beef with carrot and orange sauce. This was practice for one of four events they will have in December. The meal was a definite upgrade from rice and beans.
I said my final goodbyes to the Mendez family. Danny kept telling me that Saturday was the 1st of December and all the other Saturdays in December. He really loves Christmas. Fabian, Remi’s quiet brother, asked me to stay for another week so he wouldn’t have to do the dishes. Sra. Cristina promised to cook for me again when I return. And Remi was thankful for his website and that I like putting up Christmas decorations.
If you ever find yourself in Loja, please stay at El Cardenal. You’ll never go hungry!